Foes of new restrictive voting laws approved by states claimed victory Monday in beating back many of the measures that could have prevented up to five million Americans from casting ballots in local, state, and presidential elections next week.
Updating an October 2011 report that sounded the alarm on the adverse impact of the new laws, New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice reported Monday that “the dramatic national effort to restrict Americans’ voting rights was met with an equally dramatic pushback by courts, citizens, the Department of Justice, and farsighted public officials.”
As a result, “restrictions will affect far fewer than the 5 million citizens we predicted last year,” according to the updated report. “For the overwhelming majority of those whose rights were most at risk, the ability to vote will not be an issue on November 6th.”
The new report states that “Strikingly, nearly all the worst new laws to cut back on voting have been blocked, blunted, repealed, or postponed. Laws in 14 states were reversed or weakened.”
Since January 2011, at least 180 bills were introduced in 41 states to make voting more restrictive, according to the Brennan Center. Of the 180 bills, 25 new laws were adopted and two executive orders were issued in 19 states. Combined, the states involved accounted for 231 electoral votes, 85 percent of what’s needed to win the presidency.
Advocates of the new laws say they are needed to protect the sanctity of the vote and to guard against fraud, although none of the states that faced court challenges – Texas, South Carolina, Pennsylvania – could point to a single case of in-person voter fraud out of millions of ballots cast over a course of years.
Opponents of the new laws contend the measures are about suppressing the votes of black, Hispanic, young and elderly people, folks who tend to support President Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates.
Voting rights activists warn that having beat back some of these laws doesn’t signal the end of the battle over voting rights and voting access. Brennan Center officials, along with civil rights and civil liberties activists, fully expect Republican-controlled state legislatures and governments to re-introduce voting access bills to require people to show government-approved photo identification to register or vote and to reduce or eliminate early voting periods.
Meanwhile, voting laws that were passed but blocked, like Pennsylvania’s and Wisconsin’s, are headed to court. The U.S. Supreme Court will likely hear two cases that could adversely impact voter protections. The justices will also likely hear a legal challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Still, new voting law opponents rejoiced in what they’ve accomplished so far this election year.
“In the end, the bulk of the most onerous laws that would have made it harder for Americans to vote will not be in place for the 2012 elections,” the Brennan Center report said. “Of particular note, most of the voting restrictions adopted in swing states will not be in effect in 2012. “By and large, voters have won the battle over voting rights in 2012.”
Indeed, the victory was sweeping and dramatic. For example, federal judges blocked implementation of voter photo ID laws in South Carolina and Texas. State judges in Pennsylvania said the Republican-controlled government could not implement its photo ID law this election. In Ohio, Obama’s re-election campaign won a challenge to extend early voting in that critical state to beyond military personnel and their families.
In Florida, a judge squashed a provision in that state’s voting laws that made it difficult for third-party groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote to conduct registration drives. New Hampshire’s Democratic governor vetoed a voting law passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature that would have made it tough for college students and new state residents to register and vote. And Michigan’s Republican governor vetoed a proposal to broaden a photo ID law already on the books.